Meet the ’18 Fellows: Aaron Robertson

ALTA is pleased to announce the winners of the 2018 ALTA Travel Fellowships, including the third annual Peter K. Jansen Memorial Travel Fellowship! Each year, ALTA provides four to six $1,000 fellowships to emerging translators to attend the annual ALTA conference. This year’s winners were selected by Marguerite Feitlowitz, Margarit T. Ordukhanyan, Emma Ramadan, and Haider Shahbaz. Congratulations to this year’s Travel Fellow, Aaron Robertson:

Aaron Robertson PicAaron Robertson is a Detroit native currently living in New York City. A journalist and translator, his interests lie between North African and European culture and history. Aaron’s aim as a translator is to bring stories of the African diaspora in Italy – and Italians in Africa – into English.

As an undergraduate at Princeton University, Aaron began studying Italian language and literature. Though the traditional contemporary canon of Italian literature appealed to him – Italo Calvino, Elsa Morante, Natalia Ginzburg, and Alberto Moravia loom larged – he sought to merge this line of study with his interest in African-American literary traditions. Surely James Baldwin or Toni Morrison could offer him a different way of thinking about racial politics abroad. And they did.

In 2015, he traveled throughout Scotland, England and Italy to visit sites associated with medieval Christian saints, while also writing fiction that synthesized Black literary practices and the genres of autobiograpy, confessional, and the vita (life of a saint). The following year, he studied for a semester at the University of Bologna, Italy. That summer, his journalism career began at the Detroit Metro Times, where he wrote on the intersection of activist art and politics in the city.

While at Princeton, he was fortunate to receive instruction and guidance from authors and translators like Jeffrey Eugenides, David Bellos, John McPhee, and Jhumpa Lahiri. Lahiri’s course in literary translation alerted Aaron to the ways in which various writers have come to appreciate translation as a worthy art and challenge.

Aaron was the editor-in-chief of The Nassau Literary Review, Princeton’s oldest student publication. During his tenure, he helped organize intercollegiate literary conferences and a symposium that featured magazine editors, publishers, designers, and authors. Highlights from his time with the Review include his interview with Angela Flournoy, the National Book Award-nominated author of The Turner House, and a panel he co-curated featuring journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones, n+1 editor Marco Roth, and Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Tracy K. Smith.

On a proposal to study Afro-Italian women’s literature, Aaron received a Rhodes Scholarship to attend the University of Oxford. He wrote his master’s thesis on generic innovations in Martha Nasibù’s Memorie di una principessa etiope (Memories of an Ethiopian Princess) He has written on Italian literature and politics for publications including Foreign Policy, n+1, and The Point Magazine.

In 2018, Aaron received a PEN/Heim Translation Fund Grant for his translation of Igiaba Scego’s Beyond Babylon (Oltre Babilonia), which will be published by Two Lines Press in 2019. He is currently working on translations of Giulia Caminito’s The Big A (La Grande A) and Martha Nasibù’s Memories of an Ethiopian Princess (Memorie di una principessa etiope). Earlier this summer, he joined The New York Times as a James Reston Reporting Fellow, where he wrote for the metro section.

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